Dark Harvest

Dark Harvest
Dark Harvest
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David Slade’s newest film, “Dark Harvest,” an adaptation of the novel by Norman Partridge, is the type of Halloween film often sorely missed from October releases. It doesn’t necessarily set out to scare you or plunge you into a “high art” horror experience born from deep childhood traumas and philosophy driven villains. However such movies have their place this season, “Dark Harvest” with its wide cornfields, secluded townsfolk and pumpkin-headed monster simply aims to deliver on the eerie autumnal vibes.

The movie is set in Bastion, Illinois – a rural town during the 1960s when Halloween night was no time for trick-or-treating. Instead it means that Sawtooth Jack will be back and that he is going to face one final violent confrontation before Christmas ever hits Bastion High School’s boys who are supposed to take him down if they can’t. If they don’t then their harvest as well as town are doomed.

The boy who takes down Sawtooth Jack gets a shiny new car and permission to leave town (which is forbidden to the other citizens). His family also receives a new house in a nicer part of Bastion and membership in the town’s guild. Richie (Casey Likes) has an older brother named Jim (Britain Dalton), who won last year’s race, dashed off in his brand new Corvette only to never return. Desperate in reuniting with him Richie hopes to be this year’s champion. Still there remains darkness around the town; slowly it untangles itself so that Richie engages into battle against Sawtooth Jack-a creature-and city of Bastion itself.

The format of Dark Harvest resembles some modern hybrid between The Hunger Games and Children of the Corn. And so does tone, quite similar dark but mild suitable for younger readers with overly simplified emotional trigger words and teenagers being put at pedestal. Where things get really wild though are killings which come out of nowhere and are totally unapologetic about their level of violence. A food chain is immediately put in place with jocks in letterman jackets, greasers with “Bandit” painted denim jackets, and prepsters wearing glasses and collared shirts. It may be basic but it’s also not needed as the focus is on introducing the main characters before everything gets crazy.

Slade’s filmmaking is kinetically charged through his central event “The Run”, where masked boys chase Sawtooth Jack (as well as each other for some reason). These scenes are almost phantasmagoric, a blur of boys running so fast down the streets that they become an undifferentiated mass. The design of Sawtooth Jack is deliciously spooky, as his rotted pumpkin head and sinewy zombified body terrorize the corn fields and country roads. These pulsing scenes are matched with eerie but effective slow-moving sequences. However there has been such little worldbuilding in Dark Harvest that most time spent watching it feels confusing as events take place without context.

We’re told the rules of this town: no one leaves, boys are locked up and starved for three days before the run, and no one in the family of a past winner is allowed to win again. Even Sawtooth Jack is thrown in with no consideration for lore. All this information is doled out in passive comments though it requires more exploration due to its weight for securing film’s foundation.

Most of the acts in “Dark Harvest” were mostly unenthusiastic. This is probably due to all the characters being typecasted as they are not interesting. Their conversations have been so diluted that they almost don’t make sense. Almost every dialogue seems to be just a quote and that’s it: a passionate statement, a vague explanation. Plot-wise, even those who believe this movie revolves around Richie’s affection for his sibling find themselves cheated by little story development and unconvincing performance from Likes. Richie’s love interest, Kelly (Emyri Crutchfield), is just part of the plot put there to show that he has something else besides his brother to live for. She is nothing but her rough-and-tumble personality and blackness which is only used as a reminder through direct statements or derogatory speech (in other people’s mouths) that this film was set in times long gone in rural America. Jerry Ricks (Luke Kirby), the sheriff of the town, is excessively exaggerated villainous character with expressionless face delivering each line by shouting and there are no details about him offering any support either story-wise or acting-wise.

However, Slade’s flick doesn’t dwell much on making any real impact, but it never takes itself too seriously as well. It makes some sense but lacks empathy; its thrust forward comes from gory scenes and raised guns while its questions remain unanswered thereby halting it.

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